ETI Salutes Activist and Morehouse College Legend Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays

Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

In order to be a legend you have to learn from and study the legends.

A legend today is known for their noted celebrity and larger-than-life accomplishments, whose fame is well-known.

Benjamin Elijah Mays was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights, and the progression of political rights of African Americans in America. He was active working with world leaders, such as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and John D. Rockefeller, in improving the social standing of minorities in politics, education, and business.

Originally enrolling in Virginia Union University, he moved north to attend Bates College in Maine, where he obtained his B.A. in 1920, as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate. He began his activist career as a pastor in the Shiloh Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He then entered the University of Chicago as a graduate student, earning an M.A. in 1925, and a Ph.D. in Religion in 1935. After he attained his Doctorate he went on to teach at Morehouse College, where he taught mathematics and was their debate coach. In 1934, he was appointed dean of the School of Religion at Howard University.

He served as the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia from 1940 to 1967. He revived the college from serious financial burden and by the end of his term more than quadrupled the endowment. As president, he served as a trusted adviser to U.S. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter. He was appointed by President Truman to the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth.

Mays was also a significant mentor to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and King considered him, his “spiritual mentor” and “intellectual father.” Mays became a civil rights activist early in his career, by publishing a dissertation entitled The Negro’s Church, the first sociological study of the black church in the United States. He is widely credited as the most influential figure in the desegregation of Atlanta.

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